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Airlines in chaos blame No10 for over 100 cancelled flights and huge disruption

Airports across the UK were unable to open all of their security gates on Monday, April 4, leading to over 120 flights being cancelled and hundreds more expected to follow suit. This left passengers stuck in hours-long queues. The industry has not been able to rehire enough staff as it recovers from a mass contraction during the Covid pandemic.

As passenger numbers soar following the easing of Covid restrictions, the staff necessary to deal with the legions of prospective travellers have not been able to keep up – and airline chiefs are citing slow security checks for new employees by the government as the reason.

Martin Chalk, general secretary of Balpa, the pilots’ union, said: “The chaos witnessed at British airports may well be repeated throughout the summer because airlines, laden with debt… have not yet rehired enough staff.”

Both Manchester and Heathrow airports have seen massive queues, and scuffles have even reportedly broken out between passengers worried they would miss their flights.

The issue was further exacerbated by a broken down train in the Channel Tunnel, creating even more delays for those heading to mainland Europe via rail.

Thousands of airline workers were laid off as the travel industry took a major hit during lockdown.

Many of these workers have since taken early retirement or found new jobs elsewhere – leaving the airline industry having to rehire much of their workforce with fresh recruits in need of lengthy counterterrorism checks.

The referencing and vetting process usually takes between 14 and 15 weeks. However, industry insiders have reported that it is actually taking “substantially longer”, with some delays reaching up to twice as long as usual.

The checks are conducted by the UK Security Vetting team, which answers to the Cabinet Office, after applicants have given details of their previous five years of employment.

According to the Telegraph, a security source has said that checks were taking weeks longer than normal in England and months longer in Northern Ireland.

Employment patterns during lockdown have added to the issue, as many recruits may well have had a high number of different employers in the last two years as their worlds were thrown into chaos by lockdown.

EasyJet’s cancellations have accounted for about half of the total, having already cancelled 200 flights over the weekend.

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A spokesman for the airline denied that the lack of staff presented an issue, saying: “[We have] sufficient operating crew and standby crew to manage normal levels of sickness.

“Unfortunately, high Covid infections across Europe have led to unusually high levels of crew sickness, more than double the normal rate.”

However, placing the blame on Covid does not appear to match with the fact that airlines like Ryanair have not faced any cancellations.

Ryanair even aims to run more flights than easyJet this year, and insiders in the airline has said that they were not facing any difficulties due to Covid infections.

Martin Chalk, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association, said that he had warned ministers “several months ago” of the threat of disruption due to staffing shortages, but stated: “The Government failed to act.”

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The Government said the responsibility lay with the industry to sort itself out, with a spokesman saying: “The aviation industry is responsible for resourcing at airports and they manage their staff absences, although we want to see minimal disruption for passengers during the Easter period.

“The requirement for counter terrorist checks for aviation security staff is important for the protection of the travelling public and the Government continues to process these security clearances in a timely manner.”

A spokesman for Heathrow says: “The Easter holiday is the first time where UK travel restrictions have been fully removed since the start of the pandemic and we are expecting passenger numbers not seen since early March 2020. We have been preparing for this for many months, but like most airports we do anticipate that the travel experience may take slightly longer during peak periods.”

A spokesman for Manchester and Stansted airports said: “We are doing all we can to recruit the staff we need to meet this demand, but this is taking time due to the lengthy vetting and training processes involved.”

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